Student athletes often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to using social media. University athletic departments expect these 18 to 22 year-olds to not only behave themselves on social media, but to promote the school’s brand with their social media presence as well. In frustration, some athletic departments turn to bans as a way to keep athletes from becoming a liability in the social space. At the same time, athletic departments are under the watchful eye of campus communicators that often think of athletics as the black sheep of the family.
In the first part of this series, I discussed the important first step to surviving student athletes on social media: be proactive. The second step involves breaking down the silos of communication on campuses and using the resources available to build a community.
Building a social media community is two-fold for campus athletics departments: external (university relations) and internal (coaches, athletes, and administrators). Campus collaboration can be a key to success, especially when it comes to managing brand reputation. Tracy Syler-Jones, Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communication at Texas Christian University describes how TCU works to insure that the campus communications department and athletics are on the same page.
“Athletics has its own marketing and communications staff, but our efforts are coordinated through TCU’s director of communications, who acts as a liaison with Athletics. TCU’s situation is unique,” she said, “in that one of our social media specialists is a dual report between athletics and the university, which allows us to quickly and easily manage crisis messages across athletics’ social media platforms.”
TCU also has a campus wide marketing task force that helps build and maintain better relationships with all campus entities. Through all these channels, athletics is more a part of the total campus community.
Teresa Valerio Parrot, principal at TVP Communications in Denver also echoed the dangers of separating athletics from the campus fabric.
“I’ve been approached by leaders who are trying to distance their institutions from athletics-based crises. That approach would make Don Quixote proud – it is an impossible dream to remove the responsibility for athletics from institutional leaders’ purview. Athletics departments deserve support when times are good and bad. And it is naïve to think that crisis repercussions, including firings, are isolated to the field or court,” Parrot said.
The well-documented Flutie Effect implies that success in college athletics has a positive influence on college enrollment and donations. While schools embrace the upside of athletics, they often fail to come to grips with the downside, leaving athletic departments flailing in the face of negative events involving student-athletes. Campus and athletic communicators need to build a bridge that puts all the resources of both sides in a common arsenal. Many athletic departments house public relations experts that have more experience managing crises than their campus counterparts. Also, athletic administrators need to recognize the expertise and audience reach available through the campus offices. With the majority of student athletes using social media and the majority of schools not providing training, the answer may come in the form of campus collaboration.
Here are five proactive steps campuses can take to begin to build a strong communications community:
- Form a campus communications team that consists of key athletic and campus communications people. The team should include new media, public relations, communications, and administrators. Come together with a common understanding that athletics is the front porch of the university and can have a powerful positive and negative effect on campus reputation.
- Use university resources to build a training program for student-athletes and other student leaders on campus. Student-athletes are not the only high profile student leaders on campus using social media. Include student-government, student journalists, and others who communicate on behalf of the school regularly. Find an agency that teaches responsible use of social media and believes in the marketing value of teaching students to develop their personal brands, not just one who teaches the do’s and do not’s.
- Formulate a coordinated plan of dealing with crises involving athletics and campus resources (see part one of this series). Consider a plan similar to TCU’s where there is a dual report between athletics and campus that can work as a bridge during a crisis.
- Consider setting up a featured athlete program similar to the University of Washington. We’ll look at their program in part three of the series. Find your best and brightest student-athletes and train them to represent the school in the social media space.
- Put together a campus editorial calendar that promotes the non-athletic achievements of student athletes–spotlight the academic and community service accomplishments of student athletes. Often, student-athletes are the most active group of volunteers on campuses.
Surviving student athletes on social media involves being proactive and building a community. How do you do it on your campus? Tell your story in the comments. Next up in part three: be an educator first and a policeman second.